Friday, March 30, 2007

Cuban Bloggers and the Cuba-US Reality

A non-too coherent Cuba rant against LA Weekly's resident ex-leftist Marc Cooper, one of many I've written over at his site lately. He was challenging anyone to find any Cuban "web page that takes any sort of dissenting view." So I went and turned on google translation and had a good look. In 20 minutes I found dozens of interesting, free blogs and oppositional web sites. This response was not allowed to be posted on that site, so I have to link it here:

As for Cuban websites where free thoughts are being displayed for us to watch, it seems there are new ones every day. There are listings of many Cuban blogs here, here and here. I'm afraid a good many seem stubbornly intent on telling the world their side of the story... the same lefty "fundamentalism" I dare peddle here.

In my 20 minute scan of the sites, I think Marc was looking for something like this - which thanks CANF and the US Govt right there on the front page. But I think Marc might like this guy. My initial favorites are this one and this one (great photos). Here's what a Cubano thinks of the recent airing of Gore's "Inconvenient Truth." Want a Cuban study of Cuban blogs, or one called Free Cuba Ideas? Negro Cubana is here. And here's another good one...

There are many more. Last month I came across a Cuban writer's blog that published the UNEAC statement opposing the Government (see prev.) before the Govt reacted. I read a couple other very interesting discussions of the recent Cuban movie "Havana Suite," which was as much a a critique of post-special period Cuba as anything the CIA could devise. I've already mentioned the periodic Rebelde articles and the opposition figures who have their own websites and (small) followings, the truth about the internet, the existence and open work of independent NGOs and Cuba's judicial system...

Cooper, like most Americans I reckon (and especially journos), thinks politics has to be a battle. They think that the 49% percent minority battling the 51% majority is normal and even preferable, to concensus and win-win decisions that only socialism allows. If half the country isn't calling for the sacking of Raul, then coercion must be to blame. The unity in Cuba is the most palatable thing you feel there, but Cooper denies its existence.

I'll give Cooper credit for admitting "most" "prisoners of conscience" were on the US pay. But he artfully twists my arguments. I have always said if you show me ANY example of someone being repressed who is free from DC or Miami (or Prague nowadays) ties, then I will consider that lowly. He appears to give up some ground on US-Cuba policy, but I still see very little room between Bush's policy and his own. One would think someone like Cooper, would be looking ahead and wondering what he can do to ensure the sovereignty, prosperity and yes, freedom of Cuba.

So the real questions is does OUR government have the right have a regime change policy that spends millions, which end up with the most vile Miami elements. Should we fight to bring down the the embargo, the unconstitutional travel ban, the covert US "aid" to dissidents? These actions of OUR government have caused Cuba to lose $47 billion dollars, 3,000 lives and enact laws none of us like. Now is the time to start paying attention and make sure the democrats pass all the positive policy changes they've been floating about.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chile: Transit Fiasco Wounds Bachelet

It appears the honeymoon has ended for the darling of liberals everywhere, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. That the transit problem appears to stem from the reliance on "private transit firms," Bachelet's loss of support is probably coming from the left. Equally adored (by the West) ex-President Lagos is probably more to blame, but I doubt many seperate the two. The whole article comes from the LA Times.

SANTIAGO, CHILE — Barely more than a year in office, President Michelle Bachelet is suffering a sharp slide in voter confidence as her administration scrambles to salvage a botched public transport overhaul that has wreaked havoc in this capital.

The Transantiago plan, designed to improve the city's chaotic system of buses and reduce pollution from the transit vehicles' exhaust, has instead stranded passengers, generated marathon waits and overtaxed the city subway.

Scores of angry protests have erupted, and lawmakers, social activists, clergy and those at both ends of the political spectrum have condemned the project as an unmitigated, and preventable, disaster.

At this point, fixing the transit system is widely viewed as the biggest challenge facing Bachelet since she took office and one of the most severe political crises in the 17 years since democracy returned to Chile.

On Monday, Bachelet replaced four Cabinet ministers, including her beleaguered transportation chief, and offered an apology for the mayhem. "The inhabitants of Santiago, especially the poorest, deserve an apology from all of us," Bachelet said.

Pollution over Santiago

But the promised number of buses has yet to hit the streets, stranding tens of thousands of angry commuters. The president on Sunday pledged to seek "guarantees" from private transit firms to produce the missing vehicles.

Complaints are aired daily of people arriving to work late and exhausted after hours spent trying to get there.
Many commuters turned to the city's subway, which had been viewed as generally efficient and modern.

But a near doubling of the passenger load has overwhelmed the system, forcing officials to close stations amid reports of commuters dropping from heart attacks and other ailments in the packed trains.

Monday, March 26, 2007

On Venezuela, NY Times Up To Old Tricks

This response to a recent anti-Chavez article was caught off the Marxism list:

The NY Times writes (in response to new Govt. measure vs. inflation), "But demagoguery and showmanship will do nothing to solve Venezuela's 20 percent inflation rate.... Venezuela's currency, the Bolívar, has lost about a fifth of its value since January..."

Nice to see the Gray Lady up to her old tricks.

I haven't been covering economic affairs for a couple of weeks, so I thought
on reading this that perhaps I had missed the news of Venezuela's
devaluation, though I didn't think so. And a quick check of Google News (in
Spanish, the English language press coverage of Venezuela is worthless)
tells me that in fact I didn't miss it. It did not happen.

Because Venezuela operates with a system of foreign currency controls and
allocations on the basis of a fixed exchange rate set by the Central Bank,
if there had been a devaluation, to honestly report on it, the NYT would
have had to tell us when the last time was that the Bolívar's official
exchange rate changed, but of course that is impossible since the *truth* is
that Bolívar's exchange rate has not changed.

What has changed is the black market exchange rate used by wealthy
Venezuelans to turn the local currency into dollars for smuggling out of the
country. And I know that bourgeois journalists are true experts on black
market currency operations.
And there will be plenty more reporting and editorializing along the lines
of the Venezuelan economic "catastrophe" in coming months and years...
So it Goes,


Cuban Father to be Denied Child - Ie. Elian's Revenge?

The Miami Herald and exile bloggers are trying to nip things in the bud but the similarities of this Cuban custody battle with Elian are more than cosmetic. This time the fate of a 4 year old girl is playing out in the Florida courts, without those pesky Feds.

Apparently now the Floridian state officials have made their position on the girl known. They prefer the child live with "family aquantences" over the girl's father in Cuba, whom wants to come and claim the child but is being prevented by the US State Dept. There is no question of the father's fitness, even the (seperated) mom said she would prefer the child go with him than the aquaintenances. The details are below.

MIAMI - State officials want a 4-year-old Cuban girl to remain in South Florida with a family acquaintance rather than be returned home to her father, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The girl, who arrived legally in the United States from Cuba with her mother and sibling two years ago, is being cared for by a family acquaintance as the dispute over her long-term custody unfolds under secret court proceedings...

The girl was removed from her mother's care by the Florida Department of Children & Families about a year ago after an investigation into charges that the woman's severe mental illness made her an unfit parent. Sources cited by the newspaper said DCF then asked Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen to grant long-term custody to a Cuban-American acquaintance of the family.

The father in Cuba also is pressing to gain custody, but he has been denied permission by the U.S. State Department to enter the country to appear in court, sources said.

State law does not require his presence to grant him custody, though many judges insist they meet potential caregivers. An independent agency was asked to conduct a review of the living conditions of the girl's father.
Whole thing


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Colombia: Military's Terrorist Links Leaked to LA Times

After ordering my gorgeous eggs and bacon stuffed arepa at the new Venezuelan cafe nearby, I was astonished to open my Sunday LA Times and see as the lead FRONT PAGE story a huge development in the Colombian human rights scandal that was already boiling at a boil.

A whistle blower in the US Government leaked a CIA report that said the ally's Armed Forces chief, Gen. Mario Montoya, worked extensively with the country's (terrorist) right-wing paramilitary groups. An operation in Medellin where dozens went killed and missing is at the center of these allegations.

Exactly 76 news organizations have picked up on this groundshaking report 18 hours after its release, compared to the more than 100 that are reporting on Hugo Chavez's Sunday radio show proncouncements. The Colombian Government has acted quicker and (sort of) responded to the allegations. The general in question did not deny the gist of the story, but said he never broke the law. He and the Colombian Govt. both (conveniently) urged the LA Times to give up the evidence. The Times and CIA have already said they publicly will not do, on national security grounds.

I wrote the Times a commendation letter for even printing the story, as the top Sunday story no less. I also urged them to not protect the Bush Administration, and cooperate subsequent US and Colombian investigations on the story. The Colombian and US people (who contribute billions to this military), deserves nothing less.

Some details are as follows:

The (CIA) intelligence report includes information (on the Medellin massacre) from another "allied Western intelligence service" and indicates that U.S. officials have received similar reports from other "reliable" sources, the Times said.

The Times said the CIA document was made available to the paper by a source who declined to identify himself except as a U.S. government employee. He said he was disclosing the information because he was unhappy that Uribe's government had not been held more to account by the Bush administration.

The CIA did not dispute the authenticity of the document, although agency officials declined to confirm it, the paper said.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ecuador: Correa Wins First Round of Constitution Struggle

I've been closely following the Constitutional struggle in Ecuador the last few weeks. We've seen some high drama (though perhaps tame by Ecuadorian standards), with 57 expelled Congressmen, who had to be removed by force and then their replacements sneaking in before dawn this week. In the end, Correa appears to have won the first round of the battle to funamentally change the Ecuadorian political system - one proven to be weak and insufficient. The country will vote whether they want to change the Constitution on April 15th. Polls show widespread support for Correa and the ballot measure. This article helps explain why.

From the Guardian UK:
The two-month-old government of leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and the popular movements that back him have emerged triumphant from their first battle with the oligarchy and traditional political parties that have historically dominated the country. Correa, in his inaugural address in January, called for a "new socialism of the twenty-first century" and declared that Ecuador has to end "the perverse system that has destroyed our democracy, our economy and our society".

Correa's presidency is rooted in a militant mass movement that has been mobilizing and challenging the country's ascendant economic and political interests for years. The Ecuadorian political system, referred to as a "partidocracia", is run by factious political parties dominated by oligarchs who pull the strings of Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidency - that is, until Correa's election. Even Michel Camdessus, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, once commented that Ecuador is characterized "by an incestuous relation between bankers, political-financial pressure groups and corrupt government officials".

The central demand of the broad movement that brought Correa to power is for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that breaks up the current dysfunctional state, ends the reign of the "partidocracia", refounds the country as a pluri-national, participatory democracy, reclaims Ecuadorian sovereignty and uses the state to advance social and economic policies that benefit the people, not the oligarchy.

Upon his inauguration, Correa issued a decree calling for a plebiscite for the people to vote on April 15 for the election of a Constituent Assembly. The Congress refused to accept the president's initiative and passed its own law, which said that such an assembly would not have the right to limit the tenure of congressional members, or any other elected officials, until their terms expired with the next elections - a change that would make it difficult for the assembly to reform the country's institutions. Then, with the intent of turning the election of assembly members into a circus, the Congress declared that anyone could put their name on the ballot for the assembly. No signatures or petitions were required, meaning that hundreds or more could simply sign up to run for any given seat, making the balloting virtually impossible to administer.

Correa responded by taking the Congressional legislation, eliminating the onerous clauses, tailoring it to his original decree for a Constituent Assembly to refound the country, and sending it the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which rules on elections and electoral procedures. Hopes were not high, as the Tribunal is historically viewed as part of the "partidocracia". The popular movements began to demonstrate in front of the Tribunal and Congress, calling for their closure, and for Correa to simply issue a decree for the Constituent Assembly.

Rene Baez, a political analyst at the Catholic University of Ecuador, says: "To the surprise of virtually everyone the popular repudiation shook the consciousness of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal." Lead by its president, Jorge Acosta, a member of a traditional right wing party, the Tribunal declared that the statute proposed by President Correa to refound the country's institutions would be the one that would be voted up or down on April 15.

Outraged by this decree, 57 of the 100 deputies of Congress voted to depose Acosta from the Tribunal. The next day Acosta and the Tribunal responded by expelling the 57 deputies from Congress for their unconstitutional actions.

The people took to the streets in a jubilant mood. Backed by demonstrators, Correa ordered 1500 policeman to surround the Congress to enforce the decree of the Tribunal, preventing any of the 57 deposed representatives from entering.
Whole Thing


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pontiff Calls Water an "Inalienable Right"

Neo-liberals following the IMF-WTO line in developing countries tried to privitize water in the 80s and 90s and it casued a massive popular backlash. Since then a new consensus against free market water has arrived, as even those discredited institutions have realized. Water can not be allowed to be a commodity. It must be provided by the Government for all - like many essential services.

Still today, World Water Day, there are more than $1 billion human beings without access to water. It is a heinous crime, made worse by the fact even the Pope can't draw attention to it. This article has received exactly one write up in the world's free media.

A message sent on behalf of the Pope by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, recalls that there is a "shared
responsibility" in managing this precious resource, "enabling access by all, especially those living in conditions of poverty."

The message stated that this is "a moral and political imperative in a world that has levels of knowledge and technology capable of ending a scarcity of water."

The papal message continues: "We are all called to modify our way of life in an educational effort capable of returning the worth and respect merited by this common resource for humanity.

"We are faced with a socioeconomic, environmental and moral challenge that concerns not only institutions, but society itself."


Cuba: Economy Should Grow 10 Percent in 2007

HAVANA, March 22 (Reuters) - Cuba expects its economic growth to slip down a gear this year to around 10 percent but remain among the strongest in the region, a senior government official said on Thursday.

Cuba, which reported growth of 12.5 percent in 2006, is feeling a pinch in its vital tourist industry this year, due in part to a warm European winter and cheaper destinations elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Cuban tour operators have played down any impact on tourism from Fidel Castro's health problems.

"I think that this year the economy will have a growth rate of not less than 10 percent. But certainly, very strong growth," Osvaldo Martinez, the head of parliament's economic commission, told Reuters.

"To sustain growth of 12.5 percent is extremely difficult. Growth of 10 percent would very likely be once more the highest in Latin America, so there is nothing to worry about," he said, after a conference on the United Nations' World Water Day.
...Whole thing


Hard-liner backs easing Cuba travel ban

Iraq War veteran Sgt. Carlos Lazo, who was denied permission to visit his teenage children who live in Cuba, apparently had an affect on a notorious anti-Castro hardline Congressman.


Rep. Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who co-authored the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that tightened the squeeze on Cuba, has decided to support a bill that lifts restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island, an advocacy group said Thursday.

Burton's office did not immediately return calls seeking comments, but Sgt. Carlos Lazo, a decorated Cuban-American U.S. Army medic who is visiting Congress this week to lobby in favor of lifting travel restrictions to Cuba, said Burton assured him he supported the bill, which is sponsored by Reps. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Ray LaHood, R-Ill.

Lazo became a potent symbol of the impact of the restrictions on Cuban-American travel, implemented in summer 2004. He was denied permission to go see his two teenage sons when he finished his tour of duty in Iraq, where he earned a bronze medal for his services in Fallujah. The Bush administration tightened family travel to Cuba from once every year to once every three years.

"He told me, 'I'm on board,'" Lazo told The Miami Herald shortly after meeting Burton for the second time over two days to ensure that the congressman had, in effect, decided to back the bill.

Burton's decision is significant because the lawmaker is considered a hard-liner on Cuba and represents a victory for groups that oppose the trade and travel restrictions. They hope his defection will convince more members of Congress to back the Cuban-American bill, one of the few that is expected to pass and even survive a veto threat by President Bush.

Lazo, who has met more than 30 members of Congress, was brought to Washington by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an advocacy group that seeks more contacts with Cuba.

The Bush administration and congressional supporters say the sanctions are needed to deny resources to a Cuban government that uses the money to repress its own people, and they argue any unilateral lifting of restrictions at this time is wrong because Cuba could be on the cusp of a period of post-Fidel Castro transition.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

LA Times: LBJ and CIA Agnets Killed JFK (Over Cuba)

I was literally flabergasted to see this feature story today in the LA Times about the John F. Kennedy assasination intrigue I happened to post about in January, when ex-CIA honcho (and Watergate and Bay of Pigs organizer) Howard Hunt died. There has long been rumor, now given substantial weight, that rogue anti-Castro CIA agents plotted to kill JFK before he was shot... with the leadership of Lyndon B. Johnson.

According to Hunt's two sons, just before he died, their father told them he was asked to be a part of the JFK assasination plot - but declined. They say he he planned to tell names and all in his memoir, which was rush released right after he died. Trouble is, the book did not mention a thing about the plot details (the sons claim Hunt's lawyers told him he'd risk perjury charges for lying to Congress).

The sons are insistent that his father knew a lot more than the hypothetical scenerios presented in his memoir.

"He told me in no uncertain terms about a plot originating in Miami, to take place in Miami," said (son) St. John. He said his father identified key players and speculated that then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was responsible for moving the venue to Dallas, where the Texan could control the security scene.
The brothers insist their father related to them a detailed plot to assassinate Kennedy....

Non-believers to this MASSIVE (but unbelievably ignored) news (8 google news stories) cite the weak fact that no one else the family was told of any such plots. But, still you would think this Times scoop would get at least one hundredth the play as Dancing With the Stars... nah


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

WCC: Freedom of Religion in Cuba is Real

Church in small town Cuba - Jibara

A Distorted Reality
By Gladys Blanco and Luz Marina Fornieles Special for AIN

The presumed lack of any kind of freedom in Cuba is outstanding among the many distortions that exist today regarding the island's reality.

It's then hardly surprising that the empire includes in its arsenal of official, as well as media fallacies, the false idea that the island's inhabitants are denied the right to practice a religion of their choice.

Accustomed to spreading only what favors their evil purposes, the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush and its lackeys from the Florida-based Cuban-American National Foundation, pretend to not hear or see the facts, the truth…

In order to determine who is right, it would be enough to verify the differences between what the enemies of the Cuban Revolution say and the many achievements the island nation demonstrates to the world.


Everyday life in Cuba is open to anyone interested in getting to know and understand it. That was the experience of Reverend Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), who after spending almost one week on the island in August 2005, described his pastoral visit as excellent and very useful.

Born in Miathene, Kenya, in1947, and elected General Secretary of the WCC in 2003, Kobia affirmed that while on the island he had the opportunity to meet not only with followers of the member churches of his organization (Methodist and Presbyterian churches), but also with representatives of other churches, thus concluding that freedom of religion "is a reality in Cuba."
Speaking with Cuban and foreign press, Samuel Kobia revealed that he and his delegation met one night with President Fidel Castro and had a long and "very good" conversation.

"We discussed different issues, among them Church-State relations. We also requested permission to build new churches on the island that facilitate our pastoral mission," said Kobia, who affirmed that "the Cuban government places no restrictions on religion and supports the building of new churches."


Cuba is a medley of religions. The Christian faith was brought to the island by Spanish colonialists at the beginning of the 16th century.

In the course of five centuries, religious life has been enriched tremendously with new religious faiths and institutions of different types.
.... (cut out loads of detail)

This religious spectrum reflects why it is said that Cuba is a medley of religions, in which Catholicism, Protestantism and all faiths of African and other origins have their own space. Learning firsthand about this reality and meeting with followers on the island of the most diverse religious denominations and congregations, led the leader of the World Council of Churches, Samuel Kobia, to affirm that in fact: "Freedom of religion is a reality in Cuba."
Read whole thing


Top US Experts on Cuba Resign En-Masse

Just a few days alter his US Agency for International Development (USAID) boss took off to join John McCain's run for Presidency, the agency's "program director" for Cuba, David Mutcher, has now resigned. The moves come in the wake of the sacking of "the super spy" appointed by Bush to watch over Cuba and Venezuela, former CIA agent Norman Bailey, under a torrent of bad news for anti-Cuba activists.

Where to begin. For in the last month we've seen some historic scenes. USAID's dealings with Cuba have come under sharp robuke, after a GAO study found evidence of widespread waste, fraud and abuse - and "no oversight." Turns out my taxdollars bought cashmere, Godiva, crab, mountain bikes and playstations for those willing to work with us as "clients." Mutchler was in charge of all this, though was likely just carrying on as it always has been. The USAID program to Cuba was never designed to be transparent, just effective at helping right-wingers friends in Miami and (to a lesser extent) Cuba.

Mutchler is also one of the inventors of the conversion of agents recruited by the US Interests Section in Havana into “independent journalists” and "independent librarians" used in the campaigns against Cuba. Everyone who has actually studied the matter concludes that these agents were neither independent, nor journalists nor librarians. But the phrases read good on page 6 of the NY Times.

The gutting of the USAID and intelligence departments on Cuba and Venezuela was probably an easy call for Bush and Co. One gets the feelig they probably did not relish another nasty public hearing in front of Congress asking questions that these three could not apparently answer (the GAO study was a massive exercise in "we have no idea where the money went and don't want to know)."

Bailey's premature exit, at the request of new intel boss Mike McDonald, may have have been a result of the apparently terrible intelligence relating to Cuba and Venezuela. McDonald may have been a bit upset that he told Congress just last month that Fidel was out for the count, Raul was consolidating power, the Revolution is ready to fall and that a trip to Latin America would be good for Bush. (He also predicted wrongly that Chavez would not "submit to a referrendum" two years ago) If they would just listen to me...

UPDATE: As I was about to post this, it appears two more have bitten the dust. The number 1 and 2 at the State Department Cuba desk have decided to rotate to the easier, greener pastures of Baghdad.

Wow, with two more falling it is hard to supress the notion that maybe something more sinister is going on here. Could it be these 6 were not up to Bush's plans for Cuba? Let us hope it is just coincidence.


Friday, March 16, 2007

What We See in Hugo Chavez... When We Watch 20/20

Today was a very rare day for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; He got as much good press as bad in the United States. First I turn on 20/20 amazed to see Hugo chatting it up amiably with Barbara Walters. He got a whole six minutes on US television, though a quarter was Barbara talking to rich brats in a cafe and touring slums that have benefitted from running water, paved streets and better schools. Already it appears the right-wingers are going to try to hang Walters, for using the words "dignified," "passionate" and saying "he's not crazy." What no one seems to have noticed is that Chavez expressed regret and basically apologized for his "name calling" of Bush.

Next I check the NY Times and see am even rarer editorial piece defending the controvertial leader. Check the piece below:

Published: March 17, 2007 - NY Times

What We See in Hugo Chavez
Buenos Aires - THE fervent welcome that greeted President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela during his visit to Argentina a week ago was inexplicable to some Argentines and left others indignant. Many here tend to mistrust populism and demagoguery, finding them redolent of Peronism. But even among the wary, a window of hope has opened, with Mr. Chávez as its symbol.
Unlike the homogenous rallies of Peronist times, the 30,000 people in this crowd came from very diverse backgrounds. In Argentina, the economic crisis of December 2001 significantly altered not only our social dynamic but our semantics. We no longer talk about the “pueblo” — which means town or village as well as people. Now we talk about the “gente,” which also means people, but with a different nuance, derived as it is from the Latin gens meaning race, clan or breed.

The new vocabulary transcends distinctions of class: the middle classes have now merged with the poor to demand their rights. Hence many students and professionals were in attendance that day, not necessarily attracted by the figure of President Chávez himself so much as by the anti-imperialist opportunity he symbolized. We Argentines, who once imagined ourselves more sophisticated, or more European, than the citizens of neighboring states, were brought closer to the rest of the continent by our impoverishment, and we find ourselves more open to the idea of pan-Latin American solidarity.

Perhaps last week’s crowd also recognized the part that President Chávez’s monetary aid played in our recuperation of that illusion known as “national identity.” For Argentina had virtually disappeared as an autonomous country during the presidency of Carlos Menem from 1989 to 1999, the era of our “carnal relations” with the United States, which took the form of spurious privatizations and a fictitious exchange rate.

While many in Argentina would, nevertheless, not hesitate to call the Venezuelan president a clown or a madman, it’s worth keeping in mind that a very heady dose of megalomania is a prerequisite for even dreaming of confronting a rival as overwhelmingly powerful as the United States — which is also led by a president viewed, in many quarters, as a clown and a madman.

President Chávez’s weapons of seduction are his superabundance of petrodollars and his obsession with a shared Latin American project. His plan is to realize the dream of Simón Bolívar, the old utopian vision of Latin American integration that today seems more viable than ever before.

It may be that President Bush chose to venture into these forgotten Southern latitudes to counter that vision. In Brazil, he tried to draw attention to the production of ethanol, an ecologically correct rival to petroleum that nonetheless depletes the earth. And in Uruguay, all Mr. Bush seemed to be trying to do was irritate the other governments of South America by promoting a Free Trade Area of the Americas project in opposition to Mercosur, the southern common market formed in 1991 by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and, somewhat later, Venezuela.

These things sometimes backfire. President Bush found himself repudiated on one bank of the Plata while President Chávez was getting ovations on the opposite one: each contender in his corner and the moral triumph to the last man left standing, as in a boxing ring.
Two major Argentine characteristics are in play here: intrinsic distrust and the need for immediate gratification. Mr. Chávez awakens both of these inclinations, and it’s interesting to see them balance each other out. The dream of a single-currency Latin American Union, modeled on the European Union, to create, insofar as possible, a buffer against the hegemony of the United States no longer seems so impossible.

I’m no political analyst; I have delved into politics only as a fiction writer. But I’m an optimist by nature, and the feeling of empowerment that President Chávez instills, and that various South American governments are endorsing, strikes me as a good engine for further progress — a means of upgrading ourselves from the status of someone’s backyard into that of a truly autonomous region, beyond Mr. Chávez, Mr. Bush and every other form of demagoguery.

Luisa Valenzuela is the author of “Black Novel With Argentines” and “The Lizard’s Tail.” This article was translated by Esther Allen from the Spanish.
Whole Thing


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bill would punish investors who help Cuba drill for oil

By William E. Gibson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WASHINGTON - Sen. Mel Martinez introduced a bill on Wednesday that would punish foreign companies and investors who help Cuba drill for oil and natural gas near the shores of Key West.

Martinez, a Republican, and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, are trying to fend off another bill also introduced on Wednesday that would allow oil rigs as close as 45 miles from the Florida coast and ease the U.S. embargo so that American companies can drill in Cuban waters.
To counter the drilling bill, Martinez introduced one of his own that would deny U.S. travel visas to any foreign person or company who supports Cuba's oil program. And it would impose unspecified penalties on anyone who invests more than $1 million to develop Cuban oil and gas resources.

"This bill sends a clear message that any attempt to develop Cuba's oil exploration program will be met with strong sanctions," Martinez said. "Supporting the Castro regime in the development of its petroleum is detrimental to U.S. policy and our national security."


Castro to be 'ready' for election

CNN - POSTED: 11:59 p.m. EDT, March 15, 2007
HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- Fidel Castro will be in "perfect shape" to run for re-election to parliament next spring, the first step toward securing yet another term as Cuba's president, National Assembly head Ricardo Alarcon said Thursday.
A lengthy process of nominating candidates for municipal elections will begin this summer, leading to several rounds of voting. Then, by March 2008, Cuba should be ready to hold parliamentary elections that are expected to include Castro, Alarcon said.

"Fidel has been and is very involved, very connected, very active in all manner of important decisions that this country makes," Alarcon said. "What's happening is, he can't do it the same way he did before because he has to dedicate a good part of his time to recuperating physically."

Switching later to deliberate but fluent English, Alarcon told journalists: "To what extent he will go back to doing things the way he did, the way he is accustomed to, it's up to him."
Things in Cuba have remained calm and functioned normally under Raul Castro. Though Fidel has not appeared in public, he has sounded lucid and up on current events in a pair of recent telephone conversations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Whole thing


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bush's Latin Trip - The Low Point of US-Latin American Relations

"The empire is in counterattack, with the head of the empire himself leading the attack, And why? Because they realize that the popular Latin American offensive is for real."

"This is not about Chávez versus Bush or Bush versus Chávez. If this were a personal matter, he would be knocked down long time ago. You know this is not a personal issue." - Hugo Chavez

With the wrap of Bush’s journey down south, experts are already saying the trip will be seen as representing the “nadir” of post Cold War US-Latin America relations and that it went as bad as it seemed. Given all the protests, purifications and lectures by his hosts, I almost feel bad for our President (not). For it is true that he is not solely responsible for the bad blood that decades of coups, death squads and economic strangulation have incurred.

The tail end of the trip, supposedly to right-wing allies in Guatemala and Mexico, ended up being the most humiliating of all. While their complaints were mostly in regards to US immigration policy, the fact they were aired in front of Bush reflected the changed reality of US power and prestige. On the issue Guatemalan President Berger said, “The Guatemalan people would have preferred a more clear and positive response - no more deportations."

The pittances Bush offered his hosts lent himself to ridicule, as Hugo Chavez made significant gestures to Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti along the way. In Venezuela, the virulently anti-Chavez right-wing newspaper El Universal, had this to say about the trip: “Carrying around boxes of lettuce in a colorful Guatemalan coat is not my definition of showing that he’s willing to do poverty alleviation,

Of course, the problem is that Bush is not interested in poverty alleviation, despite the amount of times he mentioned “social justice”. The trip was all about Hugo Chavez, despite the transparently hilarious attempts to ignore him. On that, Bush ended up even more empty handed than ever. Uruguay and Brazil have made their positions on regional unity more than clear and Calderon, with some surprising dignity, showed he is not going to play the game either. He said so bluntly in an interview with The Associated Press, “I am not interested in playing a role with Bush in that respect.” to add insult to injury, his government says it wants to mend fences with Cuba and Venezuela. Surely it did not help that Bush told the largest Mexican newspaper that he thought the symbol of Mexican nationalism, oil giant Penmex, should be privatized before he arrived.

Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez’s trip was a huge success. He had overflowing crowds in Argentina fired up and hanging on his every word, and delivered an agreement with Kirchner to create a South American natural gas cartel, ala OPEC. In Bolivia, where the US media reported he “was getting a cool reception” because he landed in the province of Evo’s political enemies, he won the hearts of the people by offering ten times the aid the US has, in response to terrible flooding there. His entourage was cheered everywhere he went, including the important El Alto suburb or La Paz. There he announced Bolivia’s entry into the new Banco Sud, a counter to the IMF and its dictates.

In Nicaragua, Chavez announced the construction of a new oil refinery, meant to wean the country off its dependence to the ESSO corporation and provide thousands of jobs. The $1.5 billion plant to be located in Leon represents the largest foreign investment in Nicaraguan history, according to Managua’s Mayor.

But Haiti was the probably the highlight of the tip for Chavez. There he rolled through the scariest slums of Port Au Prince, with mobs of young men and women treating him like royalty. He announced a $1 billion fund to assist Haiti's development, including the spreading of Cuban doctors to every town and neighborhood in the country (Cubans already provide most health care there).


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bush in a Colombia Beset By Scandal and Insecurity

Though some early articles on Bush's stop in Colombia have amazingly totally ignored the broiling scandals, the NY Times does a pretty good job setting the scene below. An embarrassing security breach at Bush's possible retreat is also making headlines. Don't miss this piece on how the supposedly rock solid economy of Colombia suddenly seems pretty shaky. Late word also has news of a rarely admitted joint US-Colombia military operation hours before Bush arrived.

I can't let this Amnesty International scuffle with Uribe's freedom loving government go either.

Bush Heads to Colombia as Scandal Taints Key Alliance

BOGOTÁ, Colombia, March 10 — The Bush administration has no closer ally in South America than Colombia, the recipient of more than $4 billion in American aid this decade to combat drug trafficking and guerrilla insurgencies. But a widening scandal tying paramilitary death squads and drug traffickers to close supporters of President Álvaro Uribe is clouding President Bush’s brief visit here on Sunday.
Claims of human rights abuses by political allies of Mr. Uribe, including the use of information from the executive branch’s intelligence service to assassinate union organizers and university professors, have already resulted in the arrest of Jorge Noguera, a former chief of Colombia’s secret police who was awarded that job after working on the president’s campaign.

“Uribe has certainly been considered a bright light here in the United States, but at some point you have to ask: what are these people doing?” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the Senate panel that oversees aid to Colombia, said in a telephone interview from Washington. “It’s time to take a pause and look at what we’ve done,” he said, referring to the effectiveness of aid to Colombia.
The court’s diligence despite death threats to its members has resulted in startling actions like an arrest warrant issued this month for Álvaro Araújo Noguera, a regional political boss implicated in the kidnapping of a member of a rival political family. Mr. Araújo, the father of Mr. Uribe’s former foreign minister, María Consuelo Araújo, remains at large.
Beyond the paramilitary scandal ensnaring members of Mr. Uribe’s government and at least eight members of his coalition in Congress, human rights organizations are calling attention to the killings of trade union officials in the past six years. And there are claims of abuses involving American companies like the Drummond Company, a coal producer based in Birmingham, Ala.

A judge in Alabama this week allowed a civil lawsuit against Drummond to go forward in which the company is accused of allowing paramilitary gunmen to kill three union leaders at its operations in northern Colombia.
More than 7,000 police officers have been assigned to protect Mr. Bush.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Chavez Fills Stadium, Lula Speaks Out, Bush Hides

Hugo Chavez in Argentina, meeting with President Kirchner and speaking to 40,000 in a soccer stadium

Oh, it is going to be a fun few more days. Bush's Latin American adventure is off to a smashing start, with violent street protests, a football stadium filled anti-Bush rally hosted by Hugo Chavez and we haven't even been to the war in Colombia or the corruption in Guatemala yet.

Let's take in some of the sights and sounds. We left off at the Bush-Lula news conference, where Bush got an earful (see below). Here's what Lula had to say afterwards about his private talks with Bush:

“If I had that capacity for persuasion that you think I might have, who knows? I might have convinced President Bush to do so many other things that I couldn’t even mention here.”

Here is what the AP wrote:

Chavez is refusing to cede any ground. While Bush moved on to Uruguay's capital Friday night, staying inside a high-security bubble that keeps protesters at a safe distance, Chavez relished the opportunity to fill a Buenos Aires soccer stadium with leftist supporters after getting another public display of affection from his Argentine ally, President Nestor Kirchner.

Chavez also upstaged Bush on the environmental front, signing deals with Kirchner to promote the use of cleaner natural gas as Brazilian environmentalists warned that Bush's ethanol plan could increase Amazon deforestation.
But both leaders seem locked in a struggle that has become downright personal — and Bush is not ducking from the fight. Just before the trip, Bush even tried to take on the mantle of Chavez's revered independence hero, telling an audience of Hispanic businessmen on the eve of his trip that Simon Bolivar "is often compared to George Washington — Jorge W."

Chavez called that a crude slap to the dignity of the Venezuelan people — and reminded Bush that Bolivar's sword was used to defeat imperialism, his favorite term for U.S. policy.

When Bush promised to send a military ship to regional ports to treat 85,000 poor Latin Americans, Chavez pointed out that 30,000 Cuban doctors, bankrolled in part by Venezuela, are not only treating but living among Latin America's poor.

And when Bush promised more than US$1 million (€760,000) for Bolivian flood victims, Chavez quickly upped the ante to US$15 million (€11.4 million).

During Bush's six hour stop in Colombia, for instance, he will get a glimpse of a U.S. Embassy scholarship program for beleaguered minority descendants of African slaves. But human rights groups note that the United States did little to stop Colombian paramilitaries from forcing thousands of these Afro-Colombians to flee their homes.

All told, Bush aides say U.S. foreign assistance to Latin America totals about $1.6 billion annually. But Chavez has pledged at least $5.4 billion (€4.1 billion) to 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries since 2005.

While Bush moves on to Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, Chavez will travel to Bolivia to check on flood victims and then to Haiti on Monday, where Venezuela's state-run development bank has pledged US$20 million (€15 million) for health care, education and housing.

"It's very unlikely the White House will be able to build an anti-Chavez coalition on this presidential trip," said Riordan Roett, head of Western Hemisphere Studies at Johns Hopkins University

More notable quotes from the day

"That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people," Guatemalan (indigenous) activist Juan Tiney said in announcing the area Bush will visit needs to be "cleansed" after he leaves.

Mercedes Merono of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (mothers of those killed in the anti-Communist "dirty war"in Argentina), "This counter-rally is extremely important," she said. "Bush seeks to take advantage of Latin America while Chavez supports the region's independence."

And more from Hugo:
"I believe the chief objective of the Bush trip is to try to scrub clean the face of the empire in Latin America. But it's too late," Hugo Chavez said on Argentine state television. "It seems he's just now discovered that poverty exists in the region."

At the rally Friday night, Mr. Chávez said he had watched Mr. Bush on television in Brazil and concluded that “he is afraid to say my name” because Mr. Chávez’s vision of “21st century socialism” is advancing in the region.

He was responding to the inability of George Bush to acknowledge what everyone knows is going on - an anti-Chavez offiensive


Brazil: Lula Tells Bush to End Trade Hypocrisy and Respect Chavez

Bush is getting an earful from his Brazilian host, President Lula da Silva. Used to standing side by side with compliant servants, Bush was noticeable unhappy with some of the comments Lula had the nerve to utter in public. Consider the following, from an AP report

(regarding trade and ethanol)
Bush and his host, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, made no secret of the friction between them in the global talks.

Silva said Brazil wants the United States to reduce it subsidies to American farmers, while Washington wants Brazil to open its markets to U.S. companies for industrial products and services.
The Brazilian president had (also) hoped to persuade Bush to repeal or scale back the 54-cent per gallon U.S. tariff on sugar-based Brazilian ethanol.

"Brazil hopes the ethanol market will be benefited by free trade, free of protectionisms," Silva said at a joint news conference that followed their meetings.

Bush was unmoved.

"It's not going to happen," he tersely told his questioner from the Brazilian media. "The law doesn't end until 2009."

On Venezuela, the real mission of this trip, the respnse from Lula must have been even harder to hear. With reports that Bush is obsessed about Chavez and wants to see acceptable (market friendly) left-wing Latin leaders like Lula take him on, Lula made clear he is having none of it.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called upon his US counterpart George W Bush on Friday in Sao Paulo to cooperate in Latin America's social development while respecting the 'political decisions of each state.'

Without directly mentioning Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Lula said relations between Brazil and the US will be stronger insofar as they 'respect each other, each respects the sovereign political decisions of each state and they can build projects that may help third countries to get out of poverty.'

The meeting took place amidst street protests against Bush that brought demonstrators within 20 metres of the US delegation - a surge that police and military had to hustle to keep at bay.
In a speech following a meeting with Bush, Lula stressed the US president arrived in South America at 'an exceptional time' for the region, with past dictatorships 'a painful memory.'

'All governments result from free elections with broad popular participation, all are committed to programmes to put an end to social injustice,' the leftist Lula said.

The Brazilian president further defended the integration of South American countries, and stressed that that process 'is taking place among independent nations.'

Several analysts interpreted Lula's comments as an answer to Bush's alleged wish to enlist Brazil's help to stem Chavez's growing political influence in Latin America.

Bush did not mention Chavez in his speech, and even ignored a question about the Venezuelan president in a press conference.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bush in Brazil: Doomed to Fail

Thanks to an unwise policy on ethanol, the president isn't likely to get very far on his trip to Latin America.
March 8, 2007, LA Times Editorial

READY FOR YOUR pop quiz about the Americas? Try this: In the run-up to today's meeting between the leaders of the Western Hemisphere's two most populous countries, one president spoke movingly of the need to boost Latin America's struggling trabajadores y campesinos (workers and peasants) while lamenting that U.S. policies have failed to reduce the region's poverty. The other grumbled about unfair agricultural protectionism. Which is the free-trade conservative president of the United States and which the left-wing populist leader of Brazil?

If you matched Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with the anti-poverty crusading and George W. Bush with the trade-policy gripe, you lose. This seeming role reversal says a lot about the political pressures on both men, and it suggests why the fence-mending presidential summit is unlikely to accomplish either leader's primary goals.

Bush is deeply unpopular in most of Latin America — a region he has largely ignored — in part because many feel the U.S. focus on free-trade pacts and drug interdiction may have exacerbated poverty instead of relieving it. Into that breach has stepped autocratic President Hugo Chavez of oil-rich Venezuela, who has backed successful leftist leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. During his trip to Latin America, Bush will try to counter Chavez's influence by appealing directly to the region's impoverished underclass and signing energy deals — such as a partnership with Brazil and other ethanol producers — that are designed to wean countries from Venezuela's cheap oil.

Lula has other priorities. Fearful of seeming too close to Bush, he is under heavy pressure from Brazilian farmers to protest U.S. agricultural supports — especially the 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol. But U.S. officials have flatly stated that they have no intention of seeking a reduction in the ethanol tariff. What Bush has offered instead is a variety of small anti-poverty programs that are dwarfed by Chavez's initiatives in the region. The "OPEC for ethanol" that the president is expected to create today with Lula won't actually open the U.S. market to Brazilian ethanol, and as a result it will accomplish little.

Brazil's sugar-based ethanol is more energy efficient and far cheaper to produce than U.S. corn-based ethanol, yet we impose a steep tariff on the Brazilian product to protect domestic corn growers and ethanol producers. The damage wrought by this policy is enormous. It raises consumer prices for all corn products, sabotages long-overdue attempts to move away from dirty fossil fuels and poisons the U.S. relationship with Latin America.

Bush has never shown the political courage to take on the farm lobby, even though U.S. agricultural subsidies and tariffs undermine his free-trade rhetoric. He's not going to win many friends in Brazil unless that changes.

Let me also tack on some quotes from Lula's governing party (the PT - or Worker's Party) that the NY Times quotes as being posted on its website.

But even Mr. Bush’s Brazilian hosts seemed divided in their reaction to that message. Although President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be meeting with Mr. Bush on Friday to sign the ethanol accord and is scheduled to visit him at Camp David on March 31, the party he leads has chosen to support and participate in the anti-Bush demonstrations.

The party, the Leftist Workers’ Party, warned on its Web site that Mr. Bush “shouldn’t count on Brazil for imperialist actions in the region.” One essay called him “the big boss of international terrorism,” while another declared that Mr. Bush was “persona non grata” in Brazil.

“The United States in general and the Bush government in particular are brutally violent,” wrote Valter Pomar, the party’s head of international affairs. “We will only be free of this threat when the North American people constitute a government on the left.”


Hypocrisy Surrounds Bush Trip to Latin America

Just thought I'd post this "letter to the editor" I wrote this morning regarding another story about the Cuban doctors in limbo in Colombia. I could not help but be struck by the disgusting spectacle of US taxpayer money being used to lure Cuban doctors away from Latin America at the same time we set to use more money to bring a Navy medical team to the region. But Bush expects the people of Latin America to beleive he actually puts their lives over cold-war era politics.

Re: U.S. leaves Cuban physicians in limbo (March 8th Los Angeles Times)

I am appalled that President Bush is promoting the defection of Cuban doctors serving in Latin America by dangling US Visas in front of their noses. Beyond leaving many poor without the only doctor they've ever known, the policy has placed these Cuban doctors in an uncosciousable legal limbo. The fact that hundreds of Cuban doctors are leaving at the same time Navy medical teams are being sent to the region just shows the rank hypocrisy that accomponies Bush's newfound interest in the health and well-being of Latin Americans.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bush's Plans for Latin America More of the Same

A view of the slum in front of the Hilton hotel where U.S. President George W. Bush will stay on Thursday and Friday nights, as police began an operation to remove squatters from the area in Sao Paulo

On Monday, President Bush gave his pre-travel speech on Latin America. In a sign of how his handlers are viewing this trip, Bush had the nerve to compare the speech to JFK's famous 1961 Latin American address (that announced the feel good Alliance for Progress). That no one even heard or cared about what little of importance Bush said says enough about the absurdity of that comment (the press conference was "sparesely attended"), but let's look deeper.

But, after laughing a bit and then giving it some thought, I realized the speeches were indeed quite similar. In 1961 leftist governments were on the ascent in Latin America and Kennedy realized the importance of "soft" diplomacy in order to beat back a competetive power (Castro). JFK was virulently anti-Communist and showed no qualm with overthrowing democracies and arming terrorists, but it was to be shrouded in gestures of US AID and cultural exchange. The result was a study that showed 90 percent of all US AID purchases went to US corporations (wiki).

The bottom line of what new programs Bush announced on Monday is much the same as Kennedy's - winning back lost hearts and minds. But the result will sadly be more of the same - pittances of "aid" going mostly to US corporations and Colombian military units (half of the official 1.6 billion we "aid" Latin America with goes to Colombia).

Millions more will be used to help underwrite Latin home mortgages through a for-profit bank, knocking a 1/2 a point or something off a 15% interest loan in Peru. Not all the US AID programs are bad, but their political orientation is shameless (watch Bush pose with many of the resulting photo ops this week).

What interesting plan or two Bush did mention ironicly seemed lifted from the Castro-Chavez playbook. A Navy medical ship will be stopping in selected ports of calls, providing "up to 1500 surguries." Too bad the C-C connection have provided millions of surguries for free, including 300,000 eye surgeries to give sight in the last few years. Bush also plans to build a medical school in Panama, to train Latin doctors and nurses (what a concept).

The crown jewel of the trip is said to be the relationship with Brazil and the ethanol/biofuel agreement. I would be more excited if the plan would not also negatively impact the world's food suppply and not make Brazilian ethanol any more available to US consumers.

But what is more interesting is the distance Lula is putting between himself and Bush. Check this out:

Brazil will also use the presidential summit to pressure the US into reducing its $0.54-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol, a toll that Brazilian producers said contradicts America's claims that it wants clean fuel and free trade.

"The high tariff that the United States imposes on ethanol makes no sense," Lula said in his weekly radio address Monday. "We are asking the United States to remove the subsidies.... They talk a lot about free trade but they like to protect their own products."

US officials have said Bush will not even discuss changing the tariff. That annoys Brazilians, but they stress that they want to use their influential role not just to make hay while the sun shines. Officials repeatedly said Brazil wants to export its expertise to help other – especially poorer nations – develop their own agriculture and ethanol industries.


Bush “Obsessed” About Chavez, Will Make "Demands" in Latin Trip

With President Bush set to take a trip through a few of the (few) friendly Latin American countries this week, there has been an avalanche of highly interesting, yet mostly laughable tidbits coming out.

Perhaps we should first look at the notion of WHY Bush feels compelled to go South at this moment. Anyone paying attention knows that Bush has presided over a time of increasing US irrelevance and anti-capitalist political gains, symbolized by the inroads made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other socialist governments.

Despite this, Bush administration officials have taken pains to reject the obvious notion that the president's longest trip to the region is aimed at checking the influence of Chavez. Instead this is said to be a “positive” trip highlighting the Bush Administration as “social reformers committed to alleviating poverty and social injustice.” (cough, cough) As proof we heard the President mouth the words “social justice” no less than 5 times in his speech before the only friendly Hispanic audience he could find – the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Chavez was not mentioned at all. Stephen Hadley, Bush’s National Security Advisor was asked how much of this is an anti-Chavez tour. “It's really not,’’ he said.

But this differs 180 degrees from those those in the know. Quoting "people who met recently with Bush," a respected Brazillian newspaper claimed over the weekend that the US ruler is "obsessed" about the Chavez’s ascent in the region. Further, it suggested that Washington is using Bush' visit to Brazil next March 8-9 to "demand" Brazilian ruler Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to take "a clearer and tougher stance vis-à-vis Chávez."